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Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

It’s A Wonderful Life is an American classic with a fascinating history

 

By Liz Clifford

 

The Cedar Springs Community Players is presenting “It’s A Wonderful Life—A Live Radio Play” on December 8, 9, and 10 at the Kent Theatre. The play is inspired by the 1946 Frank Capra movie. From humble beginnings, this movie has become an enduring American holiday favorite.

But the story actually started out life in 1939 as a short story called “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern.  Stern was unable to get the story published and decided to use it as an elaborate Christmas card for his family and friends in 1943. The Christmas story caught the eye of a movie producer who bought the rights in the hopes of making a movie of it with Cary Grant. But the timing and script weren’t right and the rights were resold to Frank Capra’s movie company in 1945.

Capra had a vision for the film and created an enormous set for the town of Bedford Falls. The movie lot was on four acres and had several city blocks with over 75 buildings, a working bank building, and specially planted full size trees to make it look like a real, established small town. Local wild animals were even encouraged to make themselves at home on the set.

Everything in Capra’s movie town had to be perfect, including the snow.  Traditionally, movie snow was made of corn flakes. But Capra didn’t like the crunching noise it made as the actors walked on it. So a special “chemical” snow was created for the film.

But the extensive set, special inventions, and multiple script revisions all cost money and the movie was not a box office success. “It’s A Wonderful Life” won one Academy Award for technical achievement—the very exciting new snow. And, to add insult to injury, the FBI took an interest in the film. In 1947, the FBI stated that the film depicted the banker as the bad guy and showed that people who had money were despicable—a common technique used by Communists. In the anti-communist McCarthy era, this wasn’t the kind of attention you wanted your movie to receive.

So how did this movie become so beloved by Americans? Because of a clerical error over it’s copyright. The copyright problem meant the movie became available to show inexpensively on television and every station across the country showed it multiple times during the holiday season. Over the years, this movie was seen by so many people during the holidays that it became a part of the holiday traditions in millions of homes across America. Which is a pretty amazing turnaround for an unsellable short story that was made into a “pro-Communist” box office failure in 1946!

Come see the show and be part of the story that has been evolving for almost 80 years. “It’s a Wonderful Life—A Live Radio Play” will be at the Kent Theater on December 8, 9, and 10 at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $10 at the Cedar Springs Library or $12 at the door and $8 for kids.

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